Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Guided Tour of the Kingdom: A Chronological Walk Through the Career of Stephen King, Part 4 (1974-1976)

When we left off, King was a short-story writer publishing horror tales in mid-level girlie magazines.
We begin this post on a different note.


a Doubleday hardback, published April 5, 1974

The Truth Inside the Lie: notes on Carrie


A word of clarification about that publication date: until we get to the early '00s (which is roughly where I began keeping track of that sort of thing for myself with new King releases), we are stuck using the best information I can find.  So do I know with 100% positivity that Carrie was published on April 5 of that year?  I do not.  Let's speak of it no further, but know going forward that until we get to about Dreamcatcher or so, I'm relying on information I've gleaned from other sources.  I probably ought to have kept track of those sources so I could cite them here, but this, alas, did not happen.
Regardless of gooberish concerns like that, Carrie certainly did appear on bookshelves in the spring of 1974, just a few months before I myself rolled into the world.

By all accounts, Carrie failed to set the world on fire.  The hardback sold respectably, but not spectacularly.  However, the paperback rights sold for a solid amount of money, a windfall which enabled King to become a full-time writer.  It was unclear how long that might last -- the spectre of returning to teaching loomed, even with a windfall -- but the opportunity was there, and King took it.

He ran with it, to say the least.
Carrie is almost always referred to as King's first novel, and that's both accurate and inaccurate.  Accurate, obviously, in the sense of it being his first novel to be published.
But also inaccurate, in the sense of it being the fifth novel he'd actually written.  (The sixth if you count The Aftermath, which we won't.)
I thought it might be interesting to use this space to recount some details about what those first four novels were: 

#1 -- Getting It On
You may know this better under the title Rage (which was eventually published under the pseudonym "Richard Bachman"), but the novel goes all the way back to 1966.  King began writing it not long after graduating from high school, which is why I'm listing it as King's first novel.  (Most people who don't list Carrie list The Long Walk instead, more on which momentarily.)  He would not finish the novel for years, though; according to Douglas E. Winter, it was not completed until 1971.
Still, it seems rough enough even in its 1977 form to count as King's first novel ... as, indeed, it very nearly was: King submitted the novel to Doubleday, and editor Bill Thompson got very close to persuading Doubleday to buy it.  It didn't end up happening, but King and Thompson struck up a friendship that would eventually lead to the acceptance of Carrie.
So in that sense, don't underestimate the importance of Getting It On to the King biography.

#2 -- The Long Walk
Winter specifies that not only did King write The Long Walk in college, but that he wrote it during his freshman year.  Think about what you were doing during your freshman year in college.  I guaran-goddam-tee you you weren't doing that.
Of course, it's likely that King made revisions prior to the novel's eventual publication, but nevertheless, The Long Walk existed in some form prior to Carrie.
Returning briefly to the issue of what should be considered to have come first, this or Rage / Getting It On, evidence does indeed indicate that of the two, The Long Walk was completed first.  For me, though, a side-by-side comparison of the two causes my gut -- which, given my 335-pound weight, is substantial and therefore demanding of respect -- to reflexively insist that The Long Walk is by far the more accomplished of the two.  It might be that that is due to it having been more heavily revised than Rage was; or King may simply have done a better job writing it to begin with than he did writing Getting It On.
Impossible to be sure.  But I go with my gut, and my gut says that Rage should be considered to be the first novel.  Plus, an argument could be made that since Getting It On was begun first, it ought to be counted first.

Such issues are not always clear-cut, which can and does lead to a certain amount of editorializing on the part of weirdos scholars like myself.  And in that capacity, I feel The Long Walk should be considered the second novel, not the first.  But that's just me!

#3 -- Sword in the Darkness
The most tantalizing title on this list for any Constant Reader must surely be Sword in the Darkness, a lengthy novel that King wrote either during his sophomore year (according to Winter via quotes from King) or his senior year (according to Rocky Wood via quotes from King).  Apparently, the extant manuscript is dated April 30, 1970, so I think this round goes to Wood.
The novel is a melodrama that culminates in a race riot, and everything I've ever heard about it from King scholars who've read it is that it is an interesting read that is nevertheless quite rough around the edges and is unlikely to ever see full publication.  A single chapter from it does appear in Rocky Wood's book Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished, and I thought it was okay.  I'd love to read the full novel, so here's hoping that somebody will eventually put it out there.
Here's an idea: sell it as an e-book exclusive, with all proceeds going to the charity of Uncle Steve's choice.  I'd buy it twice!

#4 -- The Running Man
Legend has it that King wrote this novel over the course of a single weekend during the winter of 1971 (which means late 1971 in some tellings and early 1972 in others).  He seemingly began writing Carrie not too long thereafter, possibly right on the heels of its completion.  The Running Man itself would not appear until 1982, but I do think it feels like something that would have come prior to Carrie.  There'll be a fine essay about that 'round these parts one of these days.  Or, if not a fine one, then an acceptable one.  Or if not acceptable ... I mean, shit, it'll be an essay, at least.  (Underpromise and overdeliver, isn't that how this ought to go?)
I love looking at the chronology of King's books in this manner.  I'd love to someday have the ability to put forth a recommended chronological reading list that puts all of his fiction in as-written order.  Such a task is currently impossible, and is likely to always stay that way; in some cases, we have the dates of composition, but in many cases -- especially with the short stories -- we do not.  Anyways, how would one contend with a novel like The Tommyknockers (or It) that was written over the course of several years, with other novels appearing in the midst of that time?  How would one contend with the story collections?
That way lies madness.  Or if not madness then certainly third-degree nerdhood.  Guilty as charged, y'all!
Anyways, I think there is something to be gained from looking at these four novels as predecessors to Carrie.  Or, more appropriately, looking at Carrie as the fifth novel in that particular sequence.  It may have its own rough qualities, but all things considered, I don't think it feels like a first novel.  It is more confident and accomplished than that, and as it turns out, there's a good reason for that.
Oh, and while we're here, let's talk about something else:

#6 -- Blaze
In the afterword to Different Seasons, King mentions Blaze and specifies that it was written immediately after he finished CarrieBlaze would appear years later (2007) as a Richard Bachman novel, but King has said that he revised it heavily prior to its publication.
The original version, then, remains keenly interesting to me.  Man, I'd love to be able to read the actual version of the novel King wrote directly between Carrie and 'salem's Lot.  That'd be rad!
In any case, no matter what you count as the novels that come immediately before and/or after it, Carrie remains a significant achievement for King.  Is it a little rawer in some aspects than his later works?  Sure, but it also possesses a mystique that many (allegedly) more accomplished King books do not.  A great deal of that comes via the film adaptation, but I'd argue that as good as DePalma's film is, its quality is at least as much the result of a fundamentally strong novel as it is the result of any other single factor.
Bottom line: the novel just plain works.

"The Lawnmower Man"
(short story)

  • published in the May 1975 issue of Cavalier
  • collected in Night Shift, 1978

Image courtesy of Rich Krauss. 
That "NSFW" bit is my addition.  I approve of ladies' nipples, but this isn't that kind of blog.

One of the stranger short stories from Night Shift -- who am I kidding, THE strangest short story from Night Shift -- is "The Lawnmower Man," in which a guy sees a naked fat man mowing his lawn, including any animals that happen to be on it at the time.

"The Revenge of Lardass Hogan"
(short story)

  • published in the July 1975 issue of The Maine Review
  • revised and incorporated into "The Body," 1982

I screencapped this from the PDF scan a very generous fellow collector sent me.  As far as I can tell, the cover to this sucker is not on the Internet anywhere.  So this might be a Truth Inside the Lie exclusive!

You know how I've been harping on the idea that it's a lot of fun to read the original magazine appearances of King's stories?  You know, so as to be able to compare them with the collected versions and spot any revisions and/or changes?
I know of no better argument for that approach than "The Revenge of Lardass Hogan."
The Maine Review version is damn near impossible to find, but somebody shared their scan of it with me earlier this year, and I was thrilled to get it.  That's an understatement, but even so, I had no idea just how thrilled to be.  Compared to the version that appears in The Body, this original comes close to being an entirely different story.  It ends basically the same way, but there is a lengthy introduction that is entirely excised from the "Gordie LaChance" version.
So, in effect, there's a short-story-length deleted scene that the vast majority of readers have never glimpsed.  Among the surprises lurking there: Lardass is bullied by "Ace Carmody," and later reads an article about Charles Starkweather from a scrapbook he's been keeping.
Once it gets going, though, it's the same old forced-regurgitation revenge story we all know and love.

'salem's Lot

a Doubleday hardback, published October 17, 1975

King's second novel had originally been titled Second Coming, and it was under that title that King submitted it to Doubleday.  According to King in Different Seasons, he also sent them the manuscript of Blaze, and it was editor Bill Thompson who reluctantly suggested that they go with 'salem's Lot.
Bev Vincent, however, points out in an article for Stephen King Revisited that it was actually Roadwork that King submitted along with Second Coming; King states this in an early-'00s interview with the Paris Review.  This blog is tentatively choosing to believe King's assertion that Blaze was written between Carrie and Second Coming; we think Roadwork came after that.

The bottom line is that King presented Thompson and Doubleday with a choice: proceed with publishing a vampire novel and thereby risk typecasting him as a horror writer, or try to push his career into more of a mainstream, "respectable" path.

While a look at his short story output to this point makes it fairly clear that King WAS a horror writer (both in practice and in inclination), that clarity vanishes somewhat when you consider that not one of his first four novels can be classified as horror: one had been a psychological crime drama, another a melodrama, and two had been sociologically-tinged dystopic science fiction.  And indeed, the two lengthy works King wrote in the wake of Second Coming were Roadwork and The Body (a short novel about four childhood friends evading bullies while trekking to see a dead body that is rumored to be in the woods).
Carrie and Second Coming are the outliers in that group, wouldn't you say?  But if they are, they are persuasive and compelling outliers that suggest a truth that both Thompson and King must have sensed: they pointed the way toward the author's true calling.
Whether he had that thought consciously in mind or not, Thompson ultimately decided that Second Coming was the stronger of the two options.  King agreed, and once a new title had been selected, 'salem's Lot was ready to go.  Looking back on it, it was the only sane choice.  I like Roadwork pretty well, and maybe there were thoughts that it was something that might hit the zeitgeist of the time and give King a big bump into literary fame, but I don't think there is any question that 'salem's Lot is the better of the two works.
It performed a bit more strongly than Carrie had done, and the eventual paperback did relatively well.  King's was still not a household name, but his books were selling well enough to keep Doubleday buying new ones from him.

And hey, while we're here, let's go ahead and talk briefly about...
#8 -- Roadwork
I mentioned earlier that I'd love to be able to assemble a fully accurate list of King's books in the chronological order of their writing.  There are some places where this is impossible, as we've mentioned; but I think there are also places where we can assemble at least a partial version of such a list.
So for me, Roadwork slots in at #8 on the list of King novels.  Thematically, it continues 'salem's Lot's dissatisfaction with (then-)modern American life; there's even a fascinating moment in which one can persuasively argue that Father Callahan has walked from that novel into Roadwork.
The novel would eventually be released in paperback as a Richard Bachman novel, but this did not happen until 1981, and I think it makes sense to instead slot it in here, during the mid-seventies, when the Energy Crisis was in full swing.  (You may recall that the novel was billed as a "novel of the First Energy Crisis.")  Roadwork is intended to be an exploration of what it was like to live during those times, and while I'm not convinced it does a whole heck of a lot with that notion, it nevertheless ought to be seen as a product of the time in which it was conceived.

So, for those of you keeping track of this sort of thing at home, here's my prescribed reading list for King novels up to this point:
  • Rage
  • The Long Walk
  • Sword in the Darkness (hey, maybe we'll get to read it someday!)
  • The Running Man
  • Carrie
  • Blaze (with the caveat that the released version was heavily revised)
  • 'salem's Lot
  • Roadwork (and from there, on to either "The Body" or The Shining)
The Body evidently also hails from this era, although I'm not convinced that it didn't receive substantial revision prior to its appearance in Different Seasons.  The thing that makes me think this is "The Revenge of Lardass Hogan," which, you may recall, is quite different in its short story form.  There's no hint of Gordie LaChance in that version, which suggests to me that it either was not part of The Body at that time or that the entire novel (or novella, if you prefer) was radically different.
All we know is that King says he wrote it after 'salem's Lot, but my gut tells me it was later revised more heavily than Roadwork was.
Am I making out-from-my-buttocks type guesses?  Yep.  That's how it is around here sometimes.


(novel by Peter Straub)

a Coward, McCann & Geoghegan hardback, published October 1975

The Truth Inside the Lie review of Julia

Just as King's second-published novel appeared in 1975, so did Straub's: Julia, a moving and highly effective ghost story about a bereaved former mother living in England.
If Marriages (as well as the unpublished Under Venus) had felt like a talented writer failing to realize where his true calling lay, Julia feels like the result of that realization having finally dawned.  If you're dedicated enough, I do recommend reading those first two novels, if only to make this third one -- and Straub's first foray into supernatural fiction -- stand out all the more strongly.

(short story)

  • published in the May 1976 issue of Cavalier
  • reprinted in Shivers VII, 2013
  • uncollected


You may know "Weeds" best as the short story upon which "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" (a segment of Creepshow) was based.
Don't feel as if seeing that movie (or reading the comic book) is an adequate substitute for reading "Weeds," however.  It isn't, great though Creepshow may be.  I don't know that I'd label "Weeds" a classic, exactly, but it's much better than its continued non-inclusion in any of King's story collections suggests.
For those of you who don't know, it's a riff on Lovecraft('s "The Color Out of Space") in which a farmer discovers a crashed meteorite on his land.  He gets some goop from its interior on his hand, and the next thing you know, he's not-so-slowly turning into a plant.  And the weeds are spreading fast...
It's a much more serious take on the subject matter than the Creepshow version.  Both are essential, in my opinion, so I find it to be a shame that this story isn't more widely available.
"The Ledge"
(short story)

  • published in the July 1976 issue of Penthouse
  • collected in Night Shift, 1978

Writing these blog posts is enough to make a fella downright lonesome.

In the middle of the night, King slipped out of the bed he'd been sharing with Cavalier and went to a bar in the city, where he met a party-girl named Penthouse.  They did it.  (Lost control of the analogy there, didn't I?)
Leave to King to submit a suspense story set partially in a penthouse apartment to Penthouse.  That's a smooth move, kid; ya got moxie!
"The Ledge" is a terrific story about a degenerate gambler who -- wait, is that true? or is he a tennis pro? or is that just in Cat's Eye? -- ends up in a game of chance with a mob boss.

"I Know What You Need"
(short story)

  • published in the September 1976 issue of Cosmopolitan
  • collected in Night Shift, 1978

Image courtesy of Rich Krauss.

It's been too long since I read this story; all I can think of is the rather negative take on it the Losers' Club podcast had, in which they called it out for being one plot device too many.  Do you really need voodoo when you've already got telepathy?
Probably not, but I remember being fairly well engaged by this story all the same.  It's about a woman who meets what seems to be the perfect guy.  Not so much, as it turns out.
(feature film)

  • a United Artists film, released November 3, 1976
  • directed by Brian De Palma from a screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen

It's fun to wonder where King's career might have gone if the movie version of Carrie had not come along when it did.  His first two novels had sold respectably, but there didn't seem to be any indication that he was an impending breakout star.  Maybe he would reached bestseller status on his own steam, but it's at least equally likely that it would have never happened.  Who can say for sure, other than those in possession of an Ur-Kindle?
What can be said for sure is that Brian De Palma's Carrie helped turn both that novel and 'salem's Lot into paperback bestsellers, and from there, it was one hit novel after another for at least the next 41 (as of this writing) years.  King did that himself; but he certainly had help along the way, and this movie was one of the biggest helping hands he ever received. 
It feels like I ought to pound out ten thousand words or so on the topic, but the intent of these Guided Tour posts is to provide brief information, hopefully whetting the appetite for lengthier and more specific sojourns to be undertaken in the future.
Whenever that particular future arrives, there will be plenty to say about Carrie the movie.  Ten thousand words might not even scratch the surface.
In part five, we will pick up in the post-De Palma Kingdom and see where things went over the next few years.  See you in a week!


  1. Very interesting and pivotal slice of the big man's career! What I wouldn't give to time-travel-interview the King of this era.

    I started a blog on Roadwork in 2014 or 2015 and have yet to get back to it. By the time I do, maybe (fingers crossed) someone will finally adapt the damn thing.

    "Among the surprises lurking there: Lardass is bullied by "Ace Carmody," and later reads an article about Charles Starkweather from a scrapbook he's been keeping."

    No kidding! That's pretty interesting. Ace Carmody/ Ace Merrill? Was there an actual Ace in King's life, I wonder? Not that there has to be.

    Count me among the "I Know What You Need" boosters. I rated that as my second-to-last story of NIGHT SHIFT, but, my least favorite was "Night Surf," which I still enjoy and I think works pretty well, so my ranking was more a result of the quality of all the other stories in that collection.

    1. "What I wouldn't give to time-travel-interview the King of this era." -- Yes indeed. Except I'd be afraid I'd somehow turn him talentless and thereby ruin the future.

      I've never read any indication that there was a real-life "Ace." Sure does seem like there had to be SOME kind of deal with a greaser-style hood at some point. That's a character type that showed up too often in the early days for it to be mere coincidence.

      It really is hard to find a loser in "Night Shift." That's a heck of a collection.

    2. Another, alternate scenario is that the figure of Ace Merrill is in some sense based off the real life figure of Starkweather.

      This is yet another claim with no real evidence to back it up. Still, the idea of King coming across the stories of this famous serial killer, and then exorcising his response by putting that same killer into figures like Ace or Henry Bowers does make a kind of twisted sense.

      (shrugs) Who knows.


    3. That's a good point. We know King was fascinated by Starkweather -- he has his own scrapbook on the guy -- so there's certainly no doubt that he looms large over King's conception of what evil is like.

      I'm going to mentally bookmark this idea; it merits further exploration one of these days.

  2. Really intresting, something that also would be really intresting to read is when King started with the different novels. I red for example that King started with Salems Lot as early as 1971. I understand that it is sometimes hard to find that information, but it would be a really helpful tool in this cronological walk.

    1. Absolutely. Stuff like that is so fun to me!

    2. Oh, and that's a really great idea, by the way -- where feasible, I will try to add in information about the dates of composition for the books.

  3. This entry does a very neat job of suggesting where King was as a writer long before his breakout with "Carrie".

    The reconstructed chronology, in particular, goes a long way toward establishing just where King's imagination was going, and what ideas he was occupied with at the time.

    While none of it was inevitable or anything, from the very start there are hints and clues as to what kind of writer King would become. There is the penchant for violent subject matter ("Rage"), combined with an inclination for the more Fantastic side of the genre spectrum (The Running Man"). Also, he shows an early concern with drama of small-town life. Above all, though, it's easy in hindsight to see the ideas that would coalesce into both "The Stand" and "Hearts in Atlantis" further down the road.

    King seems to have been very much a product of the 60s, and his concerns from those tears are ones he keeps coming back to.

    An interseitng side note re: 80s - 90s era horror soundtracks.

    I ran across this song from an early 1990 fright flick called "Mirror, Mirror". Basically, it's "Carrie" with a magic, haunted mirror in place of telekinesis. No, seriously, I just summed up the entire plot.

    The whole thing doesn't amount to much, yet I have to admit, it's easy to listen to that credits song and plaster it right on to King's story. It seems to fit right in without missing a beat.

    See what you think:


    1. I don't think I've ever heard of that movie, but based on this song, it's precisely the kind of '80s cheese (despite it happening in the '90s) that is so in vogue right now.

      I agree totally about King being a product of the sixties. I think we've talked about that before, but I certainly don't mind revisiting it; it's an idea that really can't be stressed enough.

      I find it really interesting that the first few novels have a throughline of sorts involving "the system" being heavily opposed to the novel's protagonist. In "Rage," Charlie feels a murderous urge as a result of the perceived oppression; in "The Long Walk," the systems of society are so oppressive that young men freely sign up for a really strong opportunity to get gunned down in the street. Both Ben Richards and Carrie White find themselves pushed too far and lash out with incredible violence at the perceived source of that oppression. "Roadwork" will continue some of this, and you can argue that "The Shining" does, too, albeit in a very different way.

      What's really interesting to me about considering "Carrie" as the fifth book in a series of "failed" books is the way it seems to clarify and perfect some of these themes. Viewed in that way, King's success begins to feel much more likely; "Carrie" was where he put it all together, and to some degree you can actually chart that process.


  4. Updated the sections for "The Lawnmower Man" and "I Know What You Need" to include some cover images a commenter (Rich Kruass) sent me. Thanks, Rich!